In order to receive compensation under the original workers' compensation program, a worker needed to show that the injury or illness was caused by an "accident," and could be denied benefits under the state's workers' compensation program if there was no particular "event" to which the worker could point as the cause of the illness. However, as it became more apparent that many illnesses are caused by the conditions or environment of the workplace, industrial diseases began to be recognized as compensable injuries.
Unlike injuries that are caused by a specific event, industrial diseases often present numerous challenges to the system.
- Generally, an industrial disease takes longer to manifest than an injury caused by an accident. In fact, some, like asbestos-related cancer, can take decades to show up.
- Because of the length of the time that some diseases take to manifest, often records of the workplace as well as medical records are long gone.
- Employers often disappear through bankruptcy, sale to another party, merger, or by simply going out of business.
- Usually, benefits are based on wages at the time when the injury occurred, that could be 30 years prior when wages were substantially lower.
- Employees may not recognize that their current disease may be attributed to their work from years past.
- Many employees find the application process long and complicated, and they are either unable or unwilling to go through the process.
- Sometimes, industries fail to disclose evidence that the workplace has, or had, environmental and health hazards - even when they are in possession of the information. Some workers' advocates accuse the asbestos industry of committing industrial manslaughter because the industry was presented with evidence of asbestos-related disease in the early 1900's but failed to act to protect workers.
Many of the issues surrounding appropriate compensation for workers who claim their injuries or illness are the result of their work environment are controversial. While some issues are fairly settled, many more may take years before they become settled issues of law.
Checklist: Industrial Disease
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This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.